Category Archives: Happiness

Have Regular RINGS Chats with your Spouse

couple at breakfast by Ambro freedigitalphotos.net

Do you want to feel more connected with your spouse when you talk?  I recently attended a meeting for Better Together, a new marriages strengthening organization based in Hamilton County near Indianapolis. Marriage and Family Therapist Missy Irvin provided these simple but meaningful tips, developed by The Marriage Resource Center in Dayton, Ohio, on how to keep a sense of connectedness with your spouse.  (And no, RINGS chats are not about jewelry.)

Irvin acknowledged that it can often be challenging to have real talks, not just discussing who will do what in your household. So, here’s a little acronym to help you remember how to infuse your talks with a better connection:

R stands for real emotions—Know how you feel first, and take time for yourself if you need it. You don’t always have to say “fine” when your partner asks how you’re doing. He or she can’t read your mind. If you’re overwhelmed, lonely or tired, say so.

I stands for Intentions/Information—Ask your spouse why they feel the way they do. Don’t shut them down by saying, “You shouldn’t feel that way.” This only causes people to stuff their feelings rather than share them.

N stands for needs—Express yourself in terms of “this is what I need from you.” Rather than making a honey-do list of chores, it may help to explain why you need help in a particular area.

G stands for grateful—Each of you state what you are grateful for. This helps you get outside of the negativity and stop focusing on the things you may perceive are going wrong.

S stands for someday—Don’t forget to dream together about the future.

Thanks to Better Together for the insights. I’ll be speaking at the group’s February 13 meeting. If you’re in the area, let me know and I’ll send you details, or check out their web site to register.

Photo by Ambro courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

7 Tips to Help You Achieve Your Goals in 2013

excited teens by Ambro freedigitalphotos.netIf you’re feeling like “a change would do you good” this year, what specific things would you like in your life to improve? Why has it been tough in the past to improve in that area?

This is the time of year when our New Year’s Resolutions may already start to be forgotten, or get pushed to the side as other more urgent matters come up. A friend of mine made what I thought was the best resolution:  to show more love. I’m sure his wife, kids and friends will be the happy recipients of his efforts and that better relationships will bring that love right back.

Many people have a goal to get more fit or to lose weight, and most of them will fall back into old habits. I read a few years ago that it only takes 21 days to make a new habit second nature. To that end, I got up and got on the treadmill for a workout for three straight weeks. I can tell you on day 22, I did not enjoy the workout any more, nor did I feel like it had become a natural habit. It took a force of my will do continue even a few days a week.

So I don’t believe in gimmicks when it comes to making changes. But I also think more change is possible than you think, in your relationships, skills, your body, your diet, or whatever you are hoping to improve.

As I was preparing this post, I read an article from The Generous Husband called You are going to change. Why choose now? He cites a study that concluded that we change a good deal more over time than we would have predicted. Looking back 10 years, you have probably changed a great deal more than you would have predicted back then. When I think about how different my husband and I were a decade ago, it makes me laugh. And you will probably be more different 10 years from now than you think you will be.  If you’re going to change, hopefully you will move in the right direction on the issues important to you.

Here are a few strategies that have worked well for me:

  1. Have clearly stated goals that are incremental. For example, “I will take my spouse out once a month” might be the first step toward infusing your marriage with more romance.
  2. Have an accountability partner. This is probably the most      important suggestion if you really want to get something done, at least it has worked very well for me. You will check in weekly or monthly with each of your goals and have to report whether or not you have done what you have said you will do. I suggest this partner would not be your spouse, but could be an encouraging friend who has something he or she also wants to achieve. Don’t pick someone who will make excuses right along with you and excuse your lack of effort. Even if you have a month that doesn’t go well, get back to your goals, and help one another get back on track. Celebrate small successes together.
  3. Put it on the schedule. It’s easy to overlook things on the schedule if you don’t have that accountability partner. Only schedule what you really intend to do. “Romantic evening with wife” or “hike with hubby” are things that may not happen if they are not on the calendar.
  4. Give focused time, then rewards. One procrastination expert I’ve read, Rita Emmett, suggests you select one thing to do for one hour. Ignore everything else going on during that hour. Take no breaks during that hour. Then, give yourself a small reward after one hour, such as a cup of coffee or a small break on Facebook. I’ve found this works quite well. We are so easily distracted; turn off email, phones and close your door during that hour.
  5. Make the first step easy. Then take the next step. For example, my friend might stock up on greeting cards or small gifts so he’s prepared to express his love when he has a few minutes. Taking a walk with a friend is an easy way to get started with improved fitness.
  6. Read and think about the issue you are working to improve. If you want a better marriage, read about strong marriages. If you want to lose weight, learn about nutrition and fitness. If you hope to deepen your faith, read the Bible or religious books. If you want a better job, study and practice the skills you will need to move up. If we spend all our complaining time focused on visualizing success, we will see more positive change by the end of 2013.
  7. When you come up short, start again. Don’t let your inner voice speak negatively.

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com.

Photo by Ambro courtesty of freedigitalphotos.net.

How Can Beauty Save Your Marriage and The World?

daisy by Simon Howden freedigitalpics.netThe famous quote in a Dostoevsky novel that “Beauty will save the world” sounds somehow superficial in today’s society. But I think it’s true. “What kind of beauty?” the characters ask, and the answer seems to be beauty in action, beauty carried out by a person.

In light of the violence, ugliness and evil that seem more prevalent in our society—although I realize they have been with us all along—my mind returns to the idea that beauty can save the world. Maybe beauty can save the family, maybe even your family.

Acts of love are some of the most beautiful and inspiring “things of beauty” that we have to offer this world. I can’t count how many times people shared the photograph of the New York City police officer last month buying shoes and socks for the homeless man who had bare feet. It was an act of kindness; this is beauty in action. We want to be touched. We want to see love in the world.

Instead of looking to our spouse and wondering, “What have you done for me lately?” it would be great if we will instead ask, “What act of beauty and love can I do for my spouse today?” You might even ask, “What act of beauty can we do together for the world today?”

These acts have transformative powers. Not only do you fill another person with love, you transform yourself into a more love-filled person.

Yes, I believe beauty can change the world.

While we don’t want to be in pursuit of materialism, physical beauty can also help transform us. When we watch the sunrise or sunset, or bring home a bouquet of flowers, when we appreciate the beauty of the human body, when we savor beautiful food, read a treasured book, or take in a beautiful work of art, we are uplifted. Even the beauty of music can change our moods almost instantly.

When we find true joy in our faith, when we find intimacy in our relationships, we find beauty.

I don’t want to list a bunch of ideas for how you can carry out acts of love, because you will see the opportunities around you each day if you are not distracted by the “noise” of life, if you are not staring at your smart phone or filling moments of quiet with TV or other media, if you are open to the idea of seeing beauty and wanting to add to it. But please try to find time and energy to bring love and beauty to those in your family, particularly your spouse.

Efficiency won’t change the world. Multitasking won’t change the world. Ever-increasing busy-ness won’t change the world. Yet, as we wrap up 2012, these are constants. When will we seek the quiet moments?

Love in action can be the beauty that saves us.

What is an act of love or a thing of beauty that has caught you in your tracks lately? For me, it has been all the people helping victims in Newtown, CT, and covering them with love.

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com.

Photo by Simon Howden courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

Aim for Meaningful, not Perfect, Holiday

Christmas tree Salvatore Vuono freedigitalphotos.netIf the holiday season makes you jump for joy, you just might be in the minority. I work very hard to get into the “holiday spirit” and keep a positive outlook even as the season becomes busier. However, we should all remember this season is a time of struggle for many.

Following the Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year celebrations, January rings in the highest divorce rates of the year. Could it be too-high expectations that go unmet? Or holding it together so the family can enjoy one last holiday together? Or is overspending in December creating additional stress in the New Year?

Even if your marriage is strong, be aware of setting unrealistic expectations during the holidays. For example, if you are hoping for a certain kind of gift, make sure it is within your family budget and let your spouse know. He or she is not a mind reader. Try not to aim for perfection with decorating, entertaining, gift giving, etc. Instead, focus on the deeper meaning of the holidays to you. For us, religious significance and celebrations are key.

In addition, try to focus on generosity toward individuals in need or charities that help those in need. It’s well known that helping others will give you a boost in happiness. Helping as a couple or a family can give you a collective boost while also doing good. These acts keep us focused less on creating the perfect material holiday and more on what the spirit of the holidays should be about.

Social connections are good for our mental wellbeing, and in general the holidays and their respective gatherings are helpful to those who are isolated or who suffer from depression. (It’s a myth that suicide rates are highest during the holidays.) However, you probably know many people who long for family members who are no longer around to celebrate. Try to include a neighbor or friend in your gathering who doesn’t have family nearby. Listen to those who are grieving and offer a hand to someone who seems overwhelmed.

Many people are struggling financially during the holiday season, either unemployed or underemployed, or simply living beyond their means.  So even if you manage to put together an extravagant holiday, don’t post about in social media. Instead, focus on gratitude not just for the material things you have but for the meaningful relationships with which you have been blessed.

Let your spouse know that just having them nearby makes each holiday a time of joy for you. And may you and your family be blessed this Christmas.

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Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in all e-book formats atwww.LoriDLowe.com.  Great for holiday stocking stuffers! Contact me if you would like one mailed in time for Christmas.

Photo by Salvatore Vuono courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

Why Arguments Spiral Out of Control in Relationships

When you are in the heat of an argument, your brain seems to be fixed on “hot,” doesn’t it? It’s not just you.

Your brain clusters memory by emotions, explained a recent article by SmartRelationships.org. What this means is that when we are sad, all we can recall at that moment are sad memories. When we are angry, we can only recall moments when we were angry. When we are happy, we recall only happy memories. “This explains why arguments can so easily descend into a long list of past offenses.”

You’ve been there, right? During the disagreement, you can’t remember all the good reasons you married your spouse. You can’t access your positive feelings. This is why saddle bagging (bringing up old hurts and conflicts) is so common. You suddenly have access to all these negative memories that were hidden to you before the argument.

What can you do to counter this tendency? Waiting a little while to allow yourself to gain perspective can help you return to a happier place where you can access positive memories again.

This concept of memory clustering is a relatively new concept for me, and one I think we would do well to remember ourselves and to educate others about when they are in conflict, especially older kids and teens. “Let them know that when it seems like the end of the world, it’s only the brain being unable to access memories from a different emotional state,” according to SmartRelationships.org.

What this has to do with is developing resilience and emotional intelligence in your marriage. Sometimes you have to “unstick” your mind by focusing on something else, or by being willing to step away until you are calm. You can help increase resilience in your marriage by offering care and support and by developing a better ability to manage strong feelings and impulses.  You can only control your own reactions and behavior.

Remember that if you both didn’t care so much you wouldn’t be as upset as you are about your differences. After calming down, take time to listen and focus on effective communication (not just getting your point across). Focus on your goal of working through the issue toward better understanding for the future, rather than focusing on “winning” the argument.

What goes through your mind during the heat of an argument? Is this issue of memory clustering harder for you or your spouse to get past?

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com.

Photo courtesy of Liz Noffsinger/Freedigitalphotos.net.

12 Great Communication Tips from Ronald Reagan to use in Your Marriage

With the U.S. Presidential election only days away, and both parties not shy about bringing up their fondness for Ronald Reagan, it seemed an appropriate time to talk about The Great Communicator. Thankfully, this post has nothing to do with politics, and everything to do with marriage.

As we’ve turned the corner into November with the holidays fast approaching, I wanted to share a bit about the treasure that former President Reagan left not to our nation, but to his wife, Nancy. She kept a huge collection of personal love letters that he wrote her over the years of their marriage. She’s shared many artifacts with his national library and along with telling their story, shares many letters in the book “I Love You, Ronnie.”

Ronnie, as she affectionately called him, wore his heart on his sleeve where Nancy was concerned, and wrote almost daily affirmations to her wherever he was. His heartfelt notes are a lasting legacy, especially to his wife. They were a reminder of his love after Alzheimer’s disease prevented him from communicating it as he so eloquently did, and of course are a great remembrance for her after his death in 2004.

In our throwaway era of fast communication, Nancy says it’s “all too easy never to find the time to write letters,” calling this a great pity. She decided to share his letters to allow others to see how wonderful it can be to express what you feel to those you love.

So here are some ideas and excerpts to inspire you. This season, don’t think of the daunting task of writing one perfect love letter. Instead, select at least three different days this season where you write in a card or jot a note, or attach a letter to a gift, expressing love to your spouse.  Here are some techniques he frequently used:

  1. Sometimes he used silly pet names like Nancy Poo, Nancy Pants, Mommie or Career Girl, and other times he used formal names like First Lady or Mrs. Reagan. He signed them also with personal nicknames (Pauvre Petite Papa) or more formal names (The Guv, Mr. President). But he seemed to always view these terms with endearment and a twinkle in his eye. For example, on leaving the Governor’s office, he said, “’Lame duck’ or ‘ex’ you are still my first lady—now more than ever.” Tip: Use personal terms that will make your spouse smile.
  2. He varied the length and format of his letters from writing a note in a greeting card (which he frequently gave) to scribbling a note with a doodle or writing a long note on White House stationery. He often used hotel stationery, and there are examples from The Plaza Hotel in New York to Plankington House in Milwaukee. Tip: As you look back, writing on a postcard or hotel letterhead can convey the memories from trips or places you lived.
  3. His notes were nearly all hand written, except when sent by telegram. Texts and emails written with heart are certainly welcome today, but try to make the three special notes for this season hand written. Tip: Even if your handwriting is messy, write your special notes by hand.
  4. Some letters included literary references. For example, “Browning I’m not, but believe me I do love you to the breadth and depth of all my being…” You might think it sounds cheesy, but I bet Nancy liked it. I was more impressed by his reference to Anne of Green Gables, although he misspelled her name. “Just think:  I’ve discovered I can be fond of Ann Blyth because she and her Dr. seem to have found something of what we have.” Tip: Use songs or books or movies that mean something to the two of you, especially if you have a hard time coming up with romantic language on your own.
  5. He sometimes included a gift, and often included a funny note or explanation. Tip: It can be a small treat or something more extravagant, but a gift accompanied by a note is always fun.
  6. He sometimes included personal memories or stories of their early days.  Tip: Sharing personal memories helps bring back the memories and feelings of those passionate days.
  7. He was constantly telling Nancy how much he loved her, adored her, missed her, and needed her. Do you think she ever got tired of it? Here’s one example: “I’ve always loved and missed you, but never has it been such an actual ache…I’m all hollow without you.” Tip: Don’t be afraid to share your feelings. Work hard to express your love.
  8. He never missed a special note for Valentine’s Day, anniversary, Christmas, birthdays, Mother’s Day, etc. He sometimes treated ordinary days like a holiday, and holidays like an every day. For example, on their March anniversary in 1963, he wrote, “This is really just an ‘in between’ day. It is a day on which I love you 365 days more than I did a year ago and 365 days less than I will a year from now. But I wonder how I lived at all for all the 365s before I met you. All my love, Your Husband.” Tip: Any day is a great day to give a note. Try to take a little extra care on special days.
  9. He used a letter to make up at least once, although Nancy says they rarely argued. And after reading it, I don’t know many women who could stay mad. Here’s an excerpt:

“A few days ago you told me I was angry with you. I tried to explain I was frustrated with myself. But later on I realized that my frustration might have been a touch of self-pity, because I’d been going around feeling that you are frequently angry with me. No more. We are so much ‘one’ that you are as vital to me as my own heart—with one exception; you could never be replaced with a transplant. Whatever I treasure and enjoy—this home, our ranch, the sight of the sea—all would be without meaning if I didn’t have you. I live in a permanent Christmas because God gave me you.”

    Tip: Sometimes saying I’m sorry in a letter allows your  apology to sink  in. And the other words of love and affirmation can’t hurt.

  1. He often shared with her his daily frustrations of work or being separated, just daily details and things that upset him. Tip: Sharing these frustrations and letting your spouse into your life and thoughts can help keep you feeling close.
  2. He sometimes played with words or used analogies. He referred to their wedding day as the day he received a heart transplant. And he often expressed surprise at how the happy years have flown by. “Others would have you believe we’ve been married 20 years. 20 minutes maybe—but never 20 years. It is a known fact that a human cannot sustain the high level of happiness I feel for more than a few minutes—and my happiness keeps on increasing.” Tip: Use language in different ways, or use a play on words.
  3. He knew best how to keep it simple. One favorite letter on White House stationery Nancy kept framed for many years over her desk read:

I love you.
I love you.
I love you.
I love you.
I love you.
I love you.
I love you.
I love you.
I love you.
And besides that–
I love you.

Instead of roaming the malls for the perfect gift, spend a little time remembering the days when you first fell in love. Share your feelings from the early days and from today.  Repeat regularly.

What tips do you think you will use for your next love letter?

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com.

Photo source: Ronald Reagan Library

Book Source: I Love You, Ronnie:  The Letters of Ronald Reagan to Nancy Reagan

Keep Choosing Right for Your Marriage

The truth is you already know most of what your marriage needs. You probably come here for inspiration or reminders, but deep down you know what keeps your family thriving. The hard part is making the effort, making the time and keeping your priorities straight.

So, today is a day for some simple reminders that aren’t so simple to keep in practice. I’m going to include two links—the first is from a divorced man named Dan Pearce who learned the hard way what he should have been doing all along to save his two failed marriages. It’s humorous and entertaining, yet husbands and wives alike are praising his advice as the ticket to more bliss and fewer divorces.

His feedback on what he would do with a do-over is here at 16 Ways I Blew My Marriage. Sometimes a good laugh will help us remember the message. From the serious, “Tell her what she is doing right,” to the not-so-serious, “I’d wait to fart until I was in the bathroom whenever possible,” Dan covers a lot of ground.

For other useful reminders, check out: 10 habits to keep marriages strong from Redbook Magazine with advice from David Wilk, a couples therapist in Vancouver. I think his #10 tip spoke to me loudest—remember it’s the little, everyday behaviors that mean the most.

“When it comes to relationship satisfaction, you can’t just ride on the big things like, ‘I don’t drink, I pay the bills, I don’t beat you, we went to Hawaii last year,’” says Wilk. “This stuff is not really what keeps couples happy in their daily lives.” What really matters is all the small stuff that adds up, such as being there for each other when one needs to vent, or noticing when he needs a hug, or making him his favorite meal just because. “It’s also giving up on the idea that you have to feel in love all the time. Marriage is about trust and commitment and knowing each other,” says Wilk. “That’s what love is.”

From my own perspective, I know that family dinners and family walks help us connect, and that carving 15 minutes a day to talk to my husband is important. I also regularly have to remind myself to say out loud the things he is doing well, to express gratitude and praise. It’s all too easy to become too ships passing in the night, especially when he is traveling or working the night shift, and sometimes we have to work harder to be affectionate partners not just parents, workers and homeowners. Some days, all it takes is a longer-than-usual hug and kiss to get us back on the same page. Other days, actually scheduling a date night out is needed.

Take the reminders that help you most, and put them to use today and tomorrow, next week and next year. When you’re on the right path, surprisingly good things can happen. If you get off the right path, do what it takes to get back.

Which of these reminders speaks most to you? What do you do to keep your marriage moving on the right track on a daily basis?

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com.

Photo credit: Lori Lowe

Are Pre-Marriage Jitters Predictors of Later Divorce?

The months preceding a marriage should be used by a couple to seriously consider whether they wish to be truly committed to one another and feel that they can do so. It’s not unusual for one or both of them to have questions, concerns or even fears about marriage. Occasionally, these reservations lead them to call off the wedding.

I’ve known several couples who after going through marriage preparation decided not to marry. Rather than considering this a failure, it’s probably good to know early—before they promise to love and honor ‘til death do they part—that at least one of them has serious doubts as to their long-term success. Unfortunately, it’s often just one person in the couple who comes to that conclusion, leaving the other broken-hearted.

A recent study caught my attention that analyzed these pre-wedding jitters of couples who went ahead and got married. Did having these fears predict a later divorce? Psychologists from the University of California, Los Angeles surveyed 250 couples a few months after they got married. They conducted follow-up surveys every six months for four years.

The researchers concluded that wives’ uncertainty before marriage was a better predictor of a later divorce than were husbands’ reservations. They also found the wives who had doubts before marriage tended to be less satisfied with the marriages. And couples in which both partners had doubts were linked with a 20 percent divorce rate.

“Don’t assume that love is enough to overpower your concerns,” said lead study author Justin Lavner. “You know yourself, your partner and your relationship better than anybody else does. If you’re feeling nervous about it, pay attention to that. It’s worth exploring what you’re nervous about.”

Considerably more husbands had doubts about getting married—47 percent—compared with wives at 38 percent. However, the wives’ doubts were better predictors of impending marital trouble. Nineteen percent of the women who had doubts about getting married were divorced within four years, while 8 percent of wives who did not have reservations were divorced four years later. For men, 14 percent of the husbands with doubts were split in four years, compared with 9 percent of husbands who did not have doubts getting hitched.

Researchers said marital jitters were significant predictors even when they took other factors into consideration, including cohabitation, whether the couple had divorced parents, or the difficulty of their engagement.

Newlywed wives with doubts about the marriage were two-and-a-half times more likely to divorce within four years than wives who did not have these doubts. And even the wives (who had doubts) who stayed together after four years were significantly less satisfied with their marriage than wives who did not experience these doubts.

“There’s no evidence that problems in a marriage just go away and get better. If anything problems are more likely to escalate,” said Lavner.  So, for couples not yet married, explore any reservations you may have, and go through premarital preparation to help you discuss important issues before tying the knot.

For couples who are already married, that is not to say marital problems can’t be solved; there is hope for all marriages, and many (experts say most) problems can be solved.

I should also add that I know some individuals who had jitters that faded away once they made the decision to commit to one another. It was the commitment decision itself that gave them jitters, not the person to whom they were engaged. Only you know whether your feelings of doubt are serious or fleeting.

See the story in HealthDay.

Did you have pre-wedding jitters? If so, did they fade or did they become predictors of future problems in your marriage?

Photo by Aleksandr Kutsayev courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

Are You Focused on Productivity over Warmth in Your Family?

In today’s post, I’m continuing some thoughts on the book The Self-Centered Marriage by Hal Edward Runkel, LMFT. You can read part I here: When a Self-Centered Marriage Isn’t a Bad Thing.

In the last post, I shared several misconceptions about marriage that Runkel debunked. An interesting insight he writes about has to do with the family unit and our American culture’s desire to make our family life as efficient, productive and equitable as our work life. We want the wheels to run smoothly, and if there is a problem, we want to make the repair and get those wheels back on the track of life. So, here’s the problem, written so aptly by Runkel:

“You’re a family, not an office. You can’t operate on skill sets charted out and replace the person who doesn’t fit well. We are not simple machines and gears, working together toward a goal of increased efficiency and productivity. We are men and women, living together as a way to feed one another’s souls and create a warm home that is anything but mechanical and operational.”

I do think we need to be reminded of how our cultural desire toward productivity can get way out of hand. I’m often guilty of this. For instance, after my kids get home from school, the gears/tasks of homework, cooking and serving dinner, cleaning, making lunches and bedtime routines immediately begin. I’m often the productivity driver, constantly assessing progress on each task. When my husband is home, I delegate some of the tasks or supervision to him or he simply jumps in to help. Sharing warmth during the evening is often not a priority, at least until the above items are complete. Sometimes we carve out time for one-on-one discussion with each other or with each of the children, but often we are so concerned with completing tasks that the nurturing and loving feelings in the home can be hidden.

We need to refocus our energy and priority on the things that matter most, which should include accomplishing what we need to do in the midst of a loving home environment.

One couple dynamic which seems fairly common writes Runkel, is that one spouse is focused on productivity and is “over-responsible” to make up for the spouse who is “under-responsible” and does little to help. The overresponsible partner’s actions may help in the short-term by preventing some arguments, in the long term it creates a worse dynamic that pulls the couple apart. So, I appreciated Runkel’s examples and steps that help couples solve this sort of conflict not by changing their partner, but by changing their own actions and responses. (We can’t expect different results without changing our actions, right?) What I also very much appreciated was that these changed actions are done in a very loving, calm, mature, positive manner that doesn’t push the spouse away. No passive-aggressive behavior, no asking for “help” simply apologizing for contributing to the problem and acknowledging the co-responsibilities. Then, moving forward in a new way. (Check out the book for anecdotes.)

The next step is to grow in gratitude, which is something I preach here frequently. Expressing gratitude has been shown in research to be very effective at improving a couple’s bond. Thank your spouse for all the ways big and small that they help you in life. Do this instead of focusing on getting recognition for your own efforts. Waiting for your spouse to change only keeps you stuck. Be responsible for your own actions, and let your spouse be responsible for his/hers.

After focusing on yourself and experiencing personal growth, pursuing your partner with your truest self, then growing in gratitude for your spouse, we can learn to truly love one another.  That means we want the absolute best for that person. It means you will try to be the best spouse for them, even if you feel they won’t reciprocate in the same manner.

When you become a person of integrity, you become more attractive to your spouse, says Runkel. This replaces scorekeeping and resentment and helps you grow together.

Above all, this focus on the self means holding yourself to a higher standard, no matter what is going on around you.

What’s your take? Is it difficult to maintain integrity and commitment when you feel your spouse isn’t pulling his/her weight? Do you agree that changing your own attitude and actions can help transform the relationship?

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com. Pick up your copy today!

Photo by ddpavumba courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

When a Self-Centered Marriage Isn’t a Bad Thing

When I began to review the book The Self-Centered Marriage by Hal Edward Runkel, LMFT, I will admit to being turned off by the title. What could be worse marriage advice than to be self-centered? I think the author was attempting to provoke the reader into questioning commonly held preconceptions. Also, there’s a big difference between being self-centered in a negative way, and being focused on your own actions and reactions as a way to contribute to a better relationship. Thankfully, the latter seemed to be the intention of the book.

I won’t say I agreed with everything in the book, however. Runkel says the best thing you can do for your marriage is to become more self-centered, learning to focus less on your spouse and more on yourself…for the benefit of you both. However, there are some people I know—often myself included—who need to look outside their personal worlds a little more often. I believe some balance is needed here. However, I do agree with the author that by focusing on understanding yourself well, you can pursue your partner with your truest self.

Questioning commonly held misconceptions about marriage can be valuable, and realizing that you can’t change your partner, just your response to your partner, is also a useful insight. Another misconception Renkel shares is that a strong couple relies on common interests and compatibility. Not true, he says, as this is a foundation for a superficial friendship, whereas “reliance on personal integrity in the midst of constant change is the foundation for a deep, lasting marriage.” This is an excellent point, and one that couples would do well to remember when they feel they are drifting apart or losing touch. Integrity and commitment are much more critical than shared interests at a particular moment in time.

One more misconception is that conflict in a marriage is bad. I agree with the author that “in-your-face conflict is a better path to true intimacy than cold avoidance.” The key in conflict is to learn to keep your cool. Being emotionally reactive and immature doesn’t allow a positive outcome to the conflict. When we are angry and fearful, adrenaline flows. The blood supply to the problem-solving part of the brain is greatly reduced. Memory, concentration and rational thought are reduced. Runkel explains how to live with the “ScreamFree Approach” and pursue your deepest desires. Staying calm and connected can help you curtail arguments, identify and change dysfunctional patterns and improve your relationship.

One of the points I’ve written about frequently is that we can’t expect our spouse to “make us happy” and meet every need. Runkel tried to make this point by explaining that being self-focused rather than other-focused means you don’t expect your spouse to fulfill you and make you happy. Instead, he says each person must take full responsibility for his/her emotional needs. “It’s not your spouse’s job to validate you, to make you feel secure enough, sexy enough, respected enough, or loved enough for you to return the favor.”

That sounds controversial to me, and I question whether we aren’t there to help one another, particularly if we see there is a blind spot or self-esteem concern. However, he does speak of the need to serve one another, which I believe can and should include praising and verbalizing love and respect as well as desire for one another. It also includes acting in a generous way that you know will please your partner.

I’ll share more on this book and the need to focus on the self within marriage in tomorrow’s post.

What do you think? Does being more self-focused or self-centered help or hinder you in your marriage?

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com.

Photo by Ambro courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.